A short introduction
My earliest youth is marked by contact with nature and with the religious of two very nearby monasteries. It is a naturally spiritual environment in which I feel at home and daily sense the nearness of God.
During secondary school, I become familiar with the Carmelites and their spirituality. I nourish my experience of God by reading texts such as Guardini, Augustine’s sermons, and poets.
After graduation, I am stricken by a serious illness which brings me face to face with death. Since then, I experience every day of my life as an undeserved and incomprehensible miracle.
My entrance into the novitiate of the Carmel in Boxmeer enhances my sense that my spiritual life is a solitary path that develops in silence. In spiritual and mystical texts, I find traveling companions and guides. The same is true of a few important dialogue partners who are touched by God in a similar way. Different circumstances and context do not change this. The path of my life takes place as a logical movement towards the one goal that increasingly attracts me from an unreachable distance.
I was fortunate enough to spend my childhood near the ocean. The ocean has always been a source of fascination for me. It always shows a different face. But the main thing it does, is cause me to fall silent for the infinite mystery in which we live.
During secondary school, I came in contact with the Benedictines in Oosterhout. There, I sensed the same fascination for the divine mystery of our existence. This ultimately led to my studying theology. There, I discovered the Christian mystical tradition. In this tradition, I found words for my own deepest experience.
Dag Hammarskjöld’s journal Markings in particular moved me. He made mysticism current for me, because he connected it with his work as Secretary General of the United Nations.
For me, the Carmel became the space where my fascination with mystical literature and a life in silence and solitude could develop further. Vocation, however, remains to my mind something very personal that can never completely overlap with a system or a social order.
Spiritual accompaniment and reading mystical texts have become a natural unity for me. In listening to the vulnerable and searching stories about God’s overwhelming activity in a concrete person and to mystical processes in the present and past, I am reading two ‘texts’ that clarify one another and need one another. This reading increasingly demands that I enter into the silence of God where all ego-noise subsides.
Different and yet the same
The Cistercians of Sion Abbey in Diepenveen preceded us in their choice for Schiermonnikoog. Though with pain, they opted for a path into the future by leaving behind their large buildings and standard structures.
The personal path
They realize that contemplative life is based on the personal vocation of each monk, in surroundings of silence and solitude. They feel that personal involvement and conversation about one’s personal experience of God and the struggle this evokes can be better realized in a small community.
We share the same experience of being touched by God and recognize in one another the courage to take risks. After an initial exploration, we reached the conclusion that we opt for a form of life in which individuality and collaboration offer a broader base for a communal search for a form of contemplative religious life for the twenty-first century.
Growing in reciprocity
The journey of our life
Despite the commonly held opinion that God is no longer relevant, He still breaks in in people’s lives. Oftern, this happens unexpectedly and without us having a religious background. God disrupts. He breaches the matter-of-course nature of our existence. Usually, we swiftly close ranks and try to resume our old life as quickly as possible, but sometimes the wound that God leaves behind in us is so deep that we can no longer avoid it and have no choice but to go in search of whatever it is that knocked us out of our matter-of-course life.
The inward journey
The mystical tradition speaks of an inward journey in this regard. The person who is touched by God is sent on a journey to a land that lies beyond the horizon of his own imagination. However successful our life may have been, we can’t be completely absorbed in it anymore, because something else demands more attention. This estrangement can be very confusing sometimes, because this ‘something else’ has no name and ultimately only shows itself to us as a painful desire. And yet, deep within ourselves we know that this is the true journey that life asks of us.
An ear that hears
We wish to give room to people who, like us, are touched by God and want to undertake the inward journey, with all its ups and downs. We do this, first of all, by every day falling silent for the mystery of our existence in prayer. We consider this exercise to be essential, because the noise of our self-willfulness is always lying in wait. Only if we truly fall silent for ourselves, can we also fall silent for the voice of God in the other. What we mainly do, therefore, is lend a sympathetic ear and listen. Our basic assumption is that the person is his own guide. He alone has knowledge of the voice of God in his existence and all we, as listeners, can do is help a person to become aware of this voice.
No journey is the same
We are not in the center of the circle. The center is God himself, and the circle is formed by people who are moved by God and wish to fall silent for the voice of God’s love in their existence. The way this journey takes shape is very personal. As far as we’re concerned, therefore, there is no inner and outer circle. Our primary goal is to offer people the opportunity to listen to themselves in their search for God. This works both ways. On the one hand, we hope that people will in this way be able to give shape to the path they wish to travel with God, on the other hand it also helps us to remain critical with regard to the openness and way of life of our own community on Schiermonnikoog.
In the footsteps of …
The island of Schiermonnikoog is a choice location for a life of prayer. The silence of nature and the constantly changing features of the ocean are the infinite space in which God’s soundless voice can get through to us.
Falling silent for
We live in the only town on the island, which is surrounded by woods, dunes, pastures, and sea. These surroundings form an ideal context to fall silent for the Voice of our being. In a conversation, the Dutch author Godfried Bomans characterized Schiermonnikoog as follows:
- Mr. Bomans, what do you do here on the island?
- Nothing at all?
- Nothing at all.
- Is that difficult?
- That is the most difficult thing there is.
- And why did you choose Schiermonnikoog for this?
- Because other places in our fatherland still induce one to undertake some activity. And here, nothing happens. You aren’t even tempted to do something. There is wind, there are gulls, and you just look at them …
The confrontation with God
The interview as a whole is of an absurd nature, but still, Bomans touches on an essential point here. It’s very difficult for us to truly fall silent for ourselves. We often say that we’re so busy, but perhaps we’re using that busyness as a cover, so that we don’t have to be confronted with that uneasy silence that lies hidden under all the noise of our busy existence. That we sometimes need silence in order to catch our breath is fine. But it shouldn’t go beyond that. Then it becomes dull or even uncomfortable. Then we quickly want to return to that haste that prevents us from truly entering into our inner reality. This is why while we live on Schiermonnikoog, our actual home lies in Silence.